Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is an action-RPG developed by Bedlam Games, the new dudes behind the troubled Scratch: The Ultimate DJ project. This isn’t the kind of pedigree you want from a studio handling a new Dungeons and Dragons joint, but it does execute on the implementation of the tabletop game’s new 4th Edition rule set well. It even manages to nail the loot and grind components.
Sadly, monstrous production and technical issues, as well as an unflinching adherence to old design concepts, bury the good work done and make Daggerdale a near-complete “pass.”
Dungeons And Dragons: Daggerdale (XBLA [Reviewed], PSN)
Developer: Bedlam Games
Released: May 24, 2011
This is a game that is afraid to let you act out a story. Instead of weaving its tale through your actions, most of the major plot points are revealed via abrupt and flat cut-scenes adorned with pieces of concept art. Worse, the moment-to-moment story is told via dry bits and pieces of text delivered by cheesy characters who always need you to do something trivial like, say, light torches, escort someone, or kill a mob.
During the horrendous climax of the game, there are a few spots where you’re an active participant. But it’s hard to give Bedlam props because these are easily the most underwhelming and underdeveloped spots in the game.
The task at hand is a big deal, though the setup isn't a surprising one. A bad guy named Rezlus is erecting an evil dark spire and gathering an army of goblins, sellswords, and other nasty dudes to his side. You, as one of the four pre-set heroes, are tasked with stopping him from accomplishing his goal of taking over the Dalelands.
The classes are familiar archetypes: there’s the fighter, the cleric, the wizard, and the rogue. Each has several special attacks that separate them from the other, but your fighter or whatever will always be the same as your buddies’ -- these are pre-rolled pugilists; customization outside of equipment has been thrown out the window, and as a result, so has a lot of D&D flair.
Each attack (including the standard ranged and melee options) are mapped to buttons in good, natural ways. And while the combat has no fluidity or nuance to speak of, the action does click with me... but only because the loot and grind aspects are good drivers.
Daggerdale counters all good feelings with its assortment of odd design decisions, ranging from the lack of original foes, to the meeting of random and wildly overpowered regular enemies and bosses, to increasingly poor pacing and distribution of garbage loot towards the last three-to-four hours of the six-to-seven hour game.
The bugs are the worst. Textures load in constantly as you play, drawing your eyes annoyingly when your glossy balls should be staring down foes instead. Screen tearing is a threat, too. And as if that wasn't enough, there's also disappearing enemies, invincible enemies, enemies that fall through floors, spells that randomly go missing, quest objectives that refuse to appear to disappear, some teleportation oddities, movement issues, and sometimes enemies just... freeze -- it’s weird.
Another couple of stumbling blocks are married to the game’s economy and loot systems, the former of which feels busted. You make money by killing dudes, selling things and breaking barrels, but what you get compared to what stuff costs doesn't line up. Items are mad expensive.
Wholesale health potions reliance is also an issue, mainly because merchants carry limited quantities. If you don’t have the concoctions, you simply can’t progress in the later game. It would have been nice, as a fighter, to have something else to lean that wasn't so hard to find for my healing needs.
This stuff should be expected from a hack-and-slash, right? The genre is all about, after all, the user having to suckle from the red teat and pick up dropped loot. As a whole though, there’s too much of this brand of archaic design in Daggerdale. The class archetypes are just as dull as the fantasy-ass fantasy story, the fantasy-ass characters, the fantasy-ass levels, the fantasy-ass monsters, and the slow fantasy-ass dice-based gameplay.
In some ways I like how Daggerdale embraces convention. I like old-school RPGs, too. The problem is that this design mentality breeds frustration in the form of overwhelming inventory management, slow combat, and a lot of been-there-seen-that stuff. Daggerdale is a game that needs to offer something, anything, other than loot and grind and it just... doesn’t.
I’d love to note that the co-op element, which allows you to roll with up to three other people in these missions, is some sort of magical savior, but it’s not really. It’s riddled with its own specific bugs and problems, which are the makings of an even worse experience. The balance, which is already kind of broken in single player, is totally defective in co-op as well.
That's not wholly surprising. Daggerdale is a game that takes all its cues from the past, and while that sounds like an okay idea, it isn’t. From UI, to writing, to systems, this feels like an ancient game that was also, tragically, not given enough time in the oven. The loot and action components might click with you at times, but there are just too many technical issues and other problems in the way of this basic, visceral kind of experience.